FIRST DOWN: THE FINAL PLAYS
Lions head coach Jim Caldwell stood at the podium after Sunday's gut-wrenching 30-26 loss, and said he wouldn't do anything different when it came to the last series of plays for the Lions.
Detroit had a 1st and goal at the Falcons 1-yard line with 19 seconds left. With so little time and no timeouts, running the ball wasn't really in the cards.
Two incompletes on first and second down set up a 3rd down with 12 seconds left. Stafford hit Golden Tate for what was ruled a touchdown with eight seconds left, but after the review, it was determined Tate was down at the half-yard line. Because the Lions didn't have any timeouts, by rule, there was a 10-second run off, and the game was over. Elation to shock in the matter of minutes.
"Hindsight is 20-20, but if we had to do it all over, we'd do it exactly the same way in terms of throwing the ball in that situation," Caldwell said. "You have to give yourself as many shots as you can."
In terms of the throws, Stafford said the only thing he would have done different was throw the ball to Tate a little higher to keep him off the ground until he passed the goal line. The first two were single coverage to Theo Riddick and Kenny Golladay.
"I just wish I would have found a way to get us in there," Stafford said. "We had a bunch of one-on-one shots and just didn't hit them." If Tate had been ruled down initially, the Lions had a good chance to run another play. Last year in Minnesota, Andre Roberts caught a 27-yard pass with 10 seconds left, and the offense was able to run up and spike the ball with three seconds left to give Matt Prater a chance to tie the game. Without having to run anywhere, it's probable they could have gotten a fourth play off tonight.
SECOND DOWN: PICK PARTY CONTINUES
Lions safety Glover Quin is one of the most cerebral safeties in the game. He's terrific at disguising his coverage, and has baited many of the best quarterbacks in the NFL into interceptions.
Sunday, it was Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan.
With Ryan looking to add to an already commanding 17-6 lead, Quin baited Ryan into a throw down the middle of the field that he thought was going to be a nice completion to a wide open Julio Jones on a post. Quin was the single-high safety and read the play so well he was in a dead sprint to cut off Jones before Ryan could even finish his play-action fake.
Quin eyed the play the entire time, and stepped right in front of the ball at the 37-yard line in a full sprint, and returned it to the house for the Lions' only touchdown of the first half.
"When I saw the adjustment pre-snap, I alerted (Darius) Slay that it was coming," Quin said. "They snapped the ball and I kind of saw it clearly and I just went. Trusted my preparation. Trusted me and Slay's communication and just went."
It's the second pick-six of Quin's career, and his 23rd interception overall.
Darius Slay was in the right spot to haul in two interceptions of his own. Both Quin and Slay did a good job getting turnovers from a guy in Ryan who typically doesn't turn the ball over much.
It's not often a team is plus-three in the turnover ratio and loses the game.
THIRD DOWN: NO ANSWER FOR FREEMAN
Detroit's defense entered Sunday's game ranked fourth in the NFL against the run, allowing just 53.5 yards per game on the ground.
The defense knew it would be tough to limit Atlanta's talented duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman to that low of a total, but that was certainly the plan going in.
Unfortunately, things don't always go according to plan.
The Falcons were able to amass 151 total yards on the ground, led by Freeman's 106. He gashed the Lions' defense for a couple big runs, including a couple in the fourth quarter.
"We just didn't do as good a job as we were doing upfront," Caldwell said. "Anytime they run for over 150 yards against you, obviously you're not doing a very good job. Our guys will improve. We'll come back and do better. We missed a lot of tackles. We can play better than that."
FOURTH DOWN: O-LINE ADJUSTMENTS
With Travis Swanson (ankle) and Joe Dahl (lower leg) unable to play Sunday, the Lions had to shift things around upfront along their offensive line. Left guard Graham Glasgow moved to center, and Zac Kerin, who the Lions signed off waivers earlier this month, made his first start of his career.
All and all, the makeshift unit did a pretty nice job.
"They did a nice job," Stafford said. "That's a good front we were playing. Really good interior players and some guys on the edge that were getting after teams before us, so I thought they did a nice job. It kind of took us a minute to settle in and once we settled in they protected well."
Stafford was sacked just twice, and hit five times. Atlanta had seven sacks in two games coming in.